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What They Wished For

American Catholics and American Presidents, 1960-2004

Lawrence J. McAndrews

Publication Year: 2014

As a religious bloc, Roman Catholics constitute the most populous religious denomination in the United States, comprising one in four Americans. With the election of John F. Kennedy as president in 1960, they attained a political prominence to match their rapidly ascending socioeconomic and cultural profile. From Vietnam to Iraq, the civil rights movement to federal funding for faith-based initiatives, and from birth control to abortion, American Catholics have won at least as often as they have lost. What They Wished For by Lawrence J. McAndrews traces the role of American Catholics in presidential policies and politics from 1960 until 2004.

Though divided by race, class, gender, and party, Catholics have influenced issues of war and peace, social justice, and life and death among modern presidents in a profound way, starting with the election of President Kennedy and expanding their influence through the intervening years with subsequent presidents. McAndrews shows that American Catholics, led by their bishops and in some cases their pope, have been remarkably successful in shaping the political dialogue and at helping to effect policy outcomes inside and outside of Washington. Indeed, although they opened this era by helping to elect one of their own, Catholic voters have gained so much influence and have become so secure in their socioeconomic status—and so confident in their political standing—that they closed the era by rejecting one of their own, voting for George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I am grateful to Scott Appleby, Kory Baker, Shannon Fasola, Kailin Olejniczak, Paul Schlegel, Merryl Sloane, and all of the archivists who helped me in researching and preparing this manuscript. Th ank you to the St. Norbert College Faculty Personnel and Faculty Development Committees for helping to...


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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. 1-14

The remarkable odyssey of American Catholics has been one of triumph and trial. If Catholic presidential candidate John Kennedy’s victory in 1960 marked the coming of age of the United States’ largest religious denomination, the road leading to Catholic presidential candidate John Kerry’s...

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1. Catholics and John Kennedy (1961–1963)

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pp. 15-50

All eyes were on the nation’s first Catholic president as he took the oath of office in January 1961. Those non- Catholics who feared that John Kennedy would be a captive of his church awaited his first theocratic tendencies. Those Catholics who worried that he would capitulate to the skeptics...

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2. Catholics and Lyndon Johnson (1963–1969)

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pp. 51-93

Many have called the American presidency the “loneliest job in the world,” and photographs of Lyndon Johnson’s furrowed visage during the depths of the Vietnam War provide ample evidence. But the papacy could also be a lonely place during the Johnson years. No matter how hard he tried, Pope...

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3. Catholics and Richard Nixon (1969–1974)

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pp. 94-132

Most American Catholics had long been Democrats, wedded to the party of immigration, organized labor, and the welfare state. Republican president Richard Nixon sought to change that. He granted uncommon access to the American Catholic hierarchy and paid unusual attention to the...

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4. Catholics and Gerald Ford (1974–1977)

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pp. 133-168

It has become part of the American mythology that “anybody can grow up to be president.” But not everybody wants to be president, even a long- term minority leader of the House of Representatives and a short- term vice president who suddenly finds himself in the White House, as Gerald Ford...

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5. Catholics and Jimmy Carter (1977–1981)

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pp. 169-197

As a born- again Baptist from a region historically inhospitable to Catholics, candidate Jimmy Carter attracted many Catholic skeptics even as he collected most Catholic votes. By proposing nuclear arms control and universal health insurance and by opposing federal funding of abortion, however...

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6. Catholics and Ronald Reagan (1981–1989)

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pp. 198-248

In some ways the American Catholic bishops never had it better than during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. After a long struggle to have their social pronouncements taken seriously by politicians, pundits, and scholars, they would produce two pastorals within three years that garnered unprecedented...

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7. Catholics and George H. W. Bush (1989–1993)

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pp. 249-292

In demeanor as well as ideology, Republican George Herbert Walker Bush was the epitome of moderation. In the Persian Gulf War, he would order United Nations troops to stop short of Baghdad. In the urban crisis, he would propose less than a Marshall Plan for cities. On abortion, he...

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8. Catholics and Bill Clinton (1993–2001)

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pp. 293-334

A plurality of American Catholic voters returned to the Democratic Party in 1992 after choosing Republicans in the three previous presidential elections. In many ways they received little in return for their votes for Bill Clinton. He started two wars about which they were unsure...

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9. Catholics and George W. Bush (2001–2004)

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pp. 335-376

In the wake of the nation’s closest presidential election, George Walker Bush promised to unite a bitterly divided country. And within nine months of taking office, he would: by sending U.S. troops into Afghanistan to hunt the Al Qaeda militants who had dared to attack the United States. But by...

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pp. 377-382

Most of the one in four American Catholics who regularly attend Sunday Mass listen intently to the priest’s homily, which draws a lesson from that day’s gospel reading. Th e preacher intends that his parable follow the parishioners out of church and accompany them during the week ahead...


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pp. 383-484


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pp. 485-503

E-ISBN-13: 9780820347110
E-ISBN-10: 0820347116
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820346830

Page Count: 472
Publication Year: 2014